Digital Disruption’s Key Ingredients: Customer, Simplicity & Education

Insights from the Foundations of Digital Disruption Panel at CxO Disrupt Auckland.

Steve Preston, Akamai, Source: CxO Disrupt, Auckland

This decade could possibly be defined as the ‘disruption era’, as new startup companies are changing the way businesses approach the simplest of tasks by utilising the potential of technology.

These were the key themes represented at the Auckland instalment of the ‘Foundations for Disruption’ panel at CxO Disrupt, Auckland .

The panel consisted of Steven Preston, Head of Marketing – ANZ from Akamai Technologies; Sonya Crosby, Chief Innovation Officer, from Skycity Entertainment Group; Kieth Chilek, Chief Technology Officer, from Tourism Holdings Ltd; Gerard Graham, Chief Operating Officer – Technology, from BNZ; as well as Sam McDonagh, Country Manager – Australia & New Zealand, from Airbnb.

The dynamic conversation explored three key themes in transformation:

Disruption is about the Customer

Preston challenged the panelists by stating that that innovation starts with providing the best service to customers and that the word ‘disruption’ is just a distraction from that goal.

Akamai is responsible for serving up to 30% of worldwide web traffic and Preston argues that for his company to continue to work with some of the world’s leading brands, a more modern approach is needed.

“To me, it’s not about disruption, I’m sort of tired of that word. It’s a reluctant old-fashioned point of view. It’s just about getting on and delivering value to your customers.”

Sam McDonagh, Airbnb
Sam McDonagh, Airbnb

Many companies make the mistake of aiming to create a product that sounds new and exciting, however, the novelty is often short-lived. For example, Google Glass failed to meet the needs of the customer due to the lack of demand for the product and the fact it was not initially available in retail stores.

Instead of focusing on novelty and disruption, data and analytics provide an indication of what customers want. Kieth Chilek, Chief Technology Officer at Tourism Holdings, commented that it is integral to start analysing the data as soon as contact has been made with the customer.

“We’re constantly measuring what the customer is looking for and what they’re doing and trying to collect data from the first point of contact.”

Keep it Simple

When it comes to creating disruption, simplicity is key. By realising what the consumer wants that is lacking in the commercial environment, an organisation can then begin working towards addressing these needs.

Preston used a personal story to highlight this message, reflecting back on how a small hole in the sole of his shoe led him to going on a website which would be able to deliver shoes within a few hours as a replacement. He says that the best part about that delivery was that they utilised technology to achieve a competitive advantage.

“To me their digital experience was not that unique, what was unique was that they used technology to show their point of value, which was their 4 hour delivery time,” he said.

Airbnb’s Country Manager for the ANZ region, Sam McDonagh, suggested Airbnb’s popularity and success was a result of using technology to create a more modernised and organised version of house sharing.

“What’s happening with Airbnb is something that’s been going for hundreds of years and that’s people sharing their houses, it’s just that technology has enabled that.”

Sonya Crosby, Skycity Entertainment Group, Source: CxO Disrupt, Auckland

Education is the Answer

The topic of education raised mixed opinions amongst the panellists regarding how to transition younger generations into the workforce and embedding the culture of change into them.

Preston suggested that companies should be doing more cooperative work with universities, hiring more interns and getting students the right experience as early as possible.

“We really need to improve the partnerships between businesses and universities. Every one of us should have interns and co-op programs at universities in place and that’s really the trick in developing the skills at businesses,” he said.

However, Sonya Crosby, Chief Innovation Officer at Skycity Entertainment Group, emphasised that the problem is not education, but rather the failure of more senior executives to adopt the newest technologies.

“Our biggest problem is ourselves. Middle-management, upper-management executives don’t understand this stuff and they’ve got fuzzy heads and glazed over eyes whenever you talk about technology.

You have young, smart people coming through who are really digital natives and then we force them into old operating systems. I’d say we need to train ourselves and rethink particularly middle-management. If we start to re-skill, that’s how we’ll get better change,” she said.

Overall the group concluded that a customer-focused, simple and collaborative approach to disruption is important if an organisation is going to progress.